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What is Aerospace Engineering?
Aerospace engineering is anything related to the production, design, repair, and testing of anything that flies.(Stanzione) This can include planes, helicopters, drones, and even space vehicles for both military and civilian use. There are two main branches in the aerospace engineering field: Aeronautical engineering, which deals with anything flying within the earth’s atmosphere, and Astronautical engineering, which is related to things that flies in space.
History of Aerospace Engineering
When you think of the term aerospace engineering, you might think of people designing planes and helicopters, but there is so much more to the profession than that. Break down the word aerospace and you will start to see just how far the profession can go; aero – meaning air or dealing with atmosphere, and space – having to do with all things outside of our atmosphere. By joining the aerospace engineering career field, you can work on airplanes, helicopters, unmanned aircraft, space shuttles, satellites, and even rovers sent to other planets. But where did the field originate? Airplanes were only invented in the early 1900’s, so was that the start of people learning to get the power to fly?
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Some of the earliest scientific drawings of flying machines were produced by Leonardo Da Vinci back in the early 1500’s; about 400 years before the first heavier-than-air flight. While his inventions never got anyone off the ground, it served as the inspiration for many people to improve and adapt his designs. Some of the first people to successfully travel a long distance in the air were a couple of Frenchman named Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes. They piloted a hot air balloon across Paris in the year 1783. These early aircraft were not able to be controlled, rather, they just went wherever the wind blew.
Many people saw the potential of aircraft for transport and military use so they began to study aerodynamics and control systems for these balloons. During the 1800’s the concepts of lift and drag were established and the path to aerospace engineering was on it’s way. There had been successful glider tests and airships were being produced to ferry passengers across great distances. The problem with these craft was that they either required special circumstances to get them airborne such as the gliders, or were fairly slow as was the case with the airships.
In 1903 the Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville, took to the air in the first manned flight in a “modern” airplane. They were able to achieve this feat due to the study of physics and mathematics relating to aeronautics. A large reason for the success of these planes was due to the invention of the internal combustion engine.
The military instantly saw the advantages of these planes and began to study them much more intensely. There was not much academic knowledge on the subject at this point in history, so much of the information was brought over from other fields of engineering. There was much study and advancement well after WW2 but there was no official aerospace engineering field of study.
It wasn’t until 1958 that the first mention of aerospace engineering appeared, and it covered not just flight within the earth’s atmosphere, but spaceflight as well. The term aerospace engineering was coined by Air Force Chief of Staff Thomas Wright.(Jennings) By this time, rockets had been used for over a decade, and we were just 11 years away from the landing on the moon. The race to understand as much as possible about flight was on. Within a few years, many universities had degrees available in aeronautical engineering degrees, as well as astronautical engineering degrees, both of which fall under the aerospace engineering specialty.
Without the focus and determination of the people learning all about how to make wooden structures fly, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Some of the greatest human achievements have happened because of the aerospace engineers hard work and dedication. We have aircraft that can cross the Atlantic ocean in under 2 hours, as well as joined forces with many nations to work on the ISS. These feats were all accomplished due to the engineers in this field.
Current outlook on field
As of May 2018, the median salary for an aerospace engineer is $115,220 per year, or %55.39 per hour.(BLS) In the U.S. the number of jobs in the aerospace sector was 69,600 and it is expected to grow at a rate of 6%, which is slightly slower than the average job growth in the U.S., but only by about 1%. The field added about 4600 new employees in the last year alone. The states with the highest employment rates for the field are: California, Texas, Alabama, Ohio, and Maryland; while the area with the highest paid employees is Washington D.C.
Much of the aerospace engineer population works with government agencies or contractors doing work with national defense. There is a lot of research being done to advance fuel efficiency, safety, noise, and unmanned flights; which will keep the job outlook good, as there will be demand for engineers for years to come. This is especially true for unmanned vehicles such as drones, as many people feel this is a better way to observe hostile battlegrounds
To become and aerospace engineer, only a bachelor’s degree is required, but a master’s degree is much more highly sought after. Aerospace engineers must study aerodynamics, propulsion, power generation and more advanced classes as well as the more general math, chemistry, and physics classes. Many schools offer courses on: structures/materials, circuitry design, fluid mechanics and statics/dynamics courses.
Some of the top schools for aerospace engineering are: MIT, Georgia Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Univeristy of Michigan – Ann Arbor, and Purdue University. These are the top 5 rates schools for their undergrad programs in both flight and spaceflight. UCF is consistently rated among the top schools that supply graduates to aerospace and defense companies; being rated number 1 in 2018.
Examples of Jobs and Companies
There are a few major subsections of the aerospace engineering degrees. These can be related to propulsion, structures, avionics and aerodynamics. These sections can be broken down even further into areas of refined knowledge, and at the University of Florida, you can get a degree in aerospace engineering with a focus on micro air vehicles, small satellites, space vehicle design, space mission planning, and guidance and control systems.(UofF) They even have a specialization geared toward cryogenic fluid management in space.
Perhaps the most well known company involved in aeronautic research and space exploration is NASA. Founded in 1958, NASA was founded with the intention of being a civilian based agency promoting joint operations and peaceful cooperation with other nations with the intent of advancing astronautics. NASA currently employs over 17,000 people, of which, over 60% are involved with engineering and science departments.(National Research Council) Of that population that are in the engineering and science side, 85% are engineers, with most being aerospace engineers. That means that NASA currently has over 8500 aerospace engineering positions in their workforce. Many of these positions earn between $80,000-$98,000 per year, and the yearly pay increase was higher than the national average.
One of the powerhouses in the aerospace industry is The Boeing Company. They currently employ over 150,000 people, with aerospace engineers being one of the largest shares of employees. The average engineer salary for Boeing is about $93,000, which is higher than the national average. They are in the business of producing airplanes, helicopters, satellites, missiles, and communication equipment. By the statistics, they are one of the largest exporters in the U.S. and operate in over 150 countries worldwide.
Another top contractor for the government is Lockheed Martin. They have been an established company involved in national defense and military systems since the merger of the Lockheed corporation and Martin Marietta in 1995. They currently employ over 100,000 people with engineering careers covering over half the total number of employees at 54,000.(Lockheed) They are heavily involved in the design and production of missiles and aircraft projects. Their top secret projects division is known as Skunkworks, and has produced some of the most iconic aircraft, such as the SR-71 Blackbird.
Common software applications? Tools/resources
Much like any job these days, an aerospace engineer must be able to effectively use Microsoft office programs for day to day things like project updates or interoffice communication. CAD programs also play a large part in the design of many parts produced.
Where things get interesting, is in the use of programs like National Instruments LabVIEW, which is used to get experiment data through hardware and software interfacing. This program allows engineers to see experiment results, and process results on the spot.
Another interesting program used in the industry is called SharkCAD Pro. This is a CAD program that allows engineers to design and 3D print parts for small scale testing of new parts. While the program itself isn’t necessarily made for aircraft engineers, there is a plugin called Aeropack That was made specifically for use in aeronautical design and engineering.(Gaget)
Cart3D is a program that uses data supplied by NASA to help aeronautical engineers and designers compute the aerodynamics of certain aircraft. This program includes great visuals that show where the greatest resistance and stresses are in different simulations. Using this program will help designers and analysts create more stable and safer aircraft.
Obtaining licensure for aerospace engineering is similar to getting licensed for many other engineering professions. An engineer must first obtain at least a bachelor’s degree from an ABET certified school, and then get a passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. After that, an engineer must have the required job experience in order to take the Professional Engineering exam. Once these criteria have been met, then you can call yourself an aerospace engineer.
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Just passing the tests and getting job experience aren’t the last steps in being an engineer though, as there are continuing education requirements in many states. In many cases, getting licensed in one state should not affect your ability to work in another, but there could be more laws regarding re-certification. (Career Profiles)
As of May 2018, the average pay for an aerospace engineer was $115,220 per year. The bottom 10% of engineers earned around $71,000 per year. This figure typically represents the starting salaries of new graduates. The top 10% of earners in the aerospace engineering field earned over $164,000 per year. These positions are usually project directors and those with higher level degrees.
The Average salary for an aerospace engineers in other countries is typically less than that of America, but some countries offer similar wages. One such country is Switzerland, which pays its aerospace engineers around 122,000 Swiss Francs per year which is equivalent to $120,000.(Salary Expert) This may seem like a close equivalent, but the cost of living in Switzerland is often higher than the cost of living in America.
South Korea is involved in the aerospace industry more than many Asian countries, but the average salary is equivalent to $47,000. The largest aerospace corporation in Korea was a joint operation conducted by Daewoo, Hyundai, and Samsung. This salary figure is expected to rise greatly in the next 5 years though, as there has been a large push toward expanding their aerospace industries. The Average pay in China is slightly lower than Korea, at only $45,500 per year.
The most effective way to get ahead in the aerospace engineering career field is to have experience with multiple different areas of the field.(Educating Engineers) Modeling and simulations are an excellent direction to go if you want to set yourself ahead of your peers. Many of the jobs in this profession involve upgrading existing aircraft or testing new replacement parts. These can be accomplished much easier by doing testing in the lab versus applying them in real world situations, so knowledge of simulation programs is a must for advancement. By doing experiments with new models and materials in the lab you can be sure that everything will work as intended the first time it’s implemented.
Another way to get ahead in the field is to keep up with continuing education. By getting additional certificates and training courses, you can get the job knowledge you need to move up in many aerospace corporations. Many jobs in the aerospace industry require some form of continuing education or training so getting a head start on your coworkers will set you apart from the rest of the pack. Some organizations that have classes or conventions for continuing education will be discussed later in the paper.
One of the most desirable traits for an engineer to have is the ability to obtain a national security clearance. This shows the company that you will not be a liability to the organization, and will be a vital asset to them. Many engineers that work for companies like Boeing and SpaceX are required to have top secret clearances due to the nature of the work they do. It is not a requirement that all engineers have secret or top secret clearances, but it can only help you when searching for a job in the industry.
US based vs global employment
The number of people employed in aerospace engineering jobs in the United States is around 69,600 as of May 2018. There is a high demand for those with an aerospace engineering degree due to the specialized education it requires. The ratio of men to women in this career field is about 85/15, with men being the majority of employees. These numbers are for American employees, but the worldwide ratios aren’t much different.
The statistics on aerospace engineering employment and pay in the EU is calculated a bit differently than in the US. They calculate the entire aerospace industry, but it notes that engineers are still in very high demand. The growth of the aerospace sector in the EU is much smaller than America at only 1-1.5%. The average salary for aerospace engineers in the EU is typically less than that of America, but well above countries like Egypt or Turkey.
The aerospace industry in Asian countries like China, Japan, and Korea is extremely large, while other Asian countries are starting to grow their industries as well. Many large companies have set up shop in countries like Japan and Korea, such as Rolls Royce, Boeing, and Raytheon. These companies all need plenty of aeronautics knowledge and experience to grow the industry in these countries. The number of schools with degrees specializing in aerospace engineering is lower than America, but higher than many other countries.
Southeast Asia has an aerospace market that is currently experiencing rapid growth in many countries. Singapore has many R&D sites for their emerging industry and have a large demand for aerospace engineers, while Malaysia is expected to generate upwards of $220 billion in the industry.(WEDC) Malaysia is estimated to need close to 32,000 workers for the aerospace industry as of 2018, many of which will need to be engineers.
The job outlook in Africa is not so good though, as there are not many jobs available for aerospace engineers. There are only 7 countries that offer an aerospace engineering degree, and not all of them are accredited. Egypt and South Africa currently have the best school for aerospace degrees with many students working around the continent on various airlines. The aerospace industry in Africa has started to grow quickly after many years of little growth, with many smaller airlines now flying to Asia and South America, among other countries.
There are many trade organizations related to the field of aeronautical and astronautical engineering, from societies that deal specifically with aerodynamics to groups dealing with unmanned space flight.
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is the largest society of professionals dedicated to the aerospace professions. They were founded in 1963 making them over 56 years old and currently have over 33,000 members worldwide. They are ranked as the number 1 publisher of of aerospace books, journals, and magazines. They have even published national as well as international standards for use in professional research.
The Vertical Flight Society is the only technical organization dedicated to the advancement of vertical flight technology (Helicopters). With the help of engineers and scientists, they have been creating state of the art technology for helicopters (and now drones and VTOL vehicles) since 1943. They have online databases such as Vertipedia, that allows user to look up information on hundreds of different types of aircraft and biographies of notable engineers. VFS offers student outreach competitions and scholarships and even have a STEM program to help get educators to spread the word about their goals.
The American Astronautical Society is America’s number one technical and scientific group dedicated to space exploration and discovery. Founded in 1954, AAS has been holding symposiums, lectures, events, and meetings to help discuss future projects and procedures with the goal of advancing the U.S. space program. They have also helped to promote international cooperation by sharing their data with other nations space programs. They have been releasing a free monthly publication called The Journal of the Astronautical Sciences since they started; which details major advancements in astronautical research and surveys.
The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) is a group that was created by members that wanted to design and build their own aircraft in 1953. Since then, it has grown to over 200,000 members who are interested in building and restoring recreational aircraft. They offer over 200 plans and blueprints to build full scale, working planes that enthusiasts can build together and gain the knowledge needed to become amateur pilots.(Penn State Library)
Future of the trade?
The future of aerospace engineering is looking bright as there have been major advances in passenger transportation and cheaper spaceflight, as well as drone technology and satellite improvements. It is estimated that the demand for new planes and helicopters will include close to 70,000 new units in the next 10 years. More and more, engineers are being needed to further the advancement of the technology in the aircraft. New graduates could be designing and testing advanced satellites, military drones, supersonic/stealth aircraft, and large transport vehicles. Civilian and military technology will only get better in the next few years, so it is important to get the right degree to get ahead of your competition.
It’s not just America that is advancing quickly though, as countries like China and India have been making strides in their research.(Muller) Close to 35% of the aerospace engineering jobs have moved to these two countries and with that, all the knowledge and experience is getting concentrated there. China has recently designed and flew its newest passenger aircraft the C919, and it shows that it is ready to take on other aerospace giants all over the world.
With Spacex looking to get hundred of engineers to help on it’s reusable booster program, and other space tourism companies looking to get engineers, there will be plenty of job opportunities soon. Along with that program, Spacex also needs people to help with the design and testing of craft capable of getting to Mars in the near future. This will undoubtedly be the biggest astronautical achievement since the moon landing in 1969.
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